Verizon Center fell so silent that the decibel meter could've registered zeros. The same building that was a house of horrors for the New York Rangers during the previous 11 playoff meetings couldn't muster a sound as the Washington Capitals fell behind by one goal, then two, then three.
By the time Mats Zuccarello scored to make the deficit five, fans poured to the exits and a half-empty arena watched the clock tick away.
What looked so promising in three victories in the District earlier in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals was a disaster Monday night in Game 7. Forget about home-ice advantage: The Caps are just going home after a 5-0 whipping at the hands of the Rangers.
“We didn’t bring the right effort for a Game 7 win,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “You can’t go in expecting to win.”
Given the tightness of the series, it was shocking that the Caps did not put up a fight in being eliminated.
“We didn't execute, so shame on us,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We weren't good enough.”
Blank stares were common in the home locker room and players and coach Adam Oates had no real answers as to why this one devolved into a blowout.
“That’s as tough as it gets right there,” forward Eric Fehr said. “It’s really disappointing. We played a hard series. And [I'm] not even sure what happened.”
The end unfolded in stunning fashion as the constants that were so reliable in getting Washington from the dregs of the conference to the playoffs abandoned them one-by-one.
MVP finalist Alex Ovechkin registered just one power-play goal and an assist in the series and was held without a goal for the final six games. Credit Rangers forward Ryan Callahan and coach John Tortorella almost as much as shutdown defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
Defenseman Karl Alzner called said “it’s hard to overcome” Ovechkin's lack of production.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who kept the Caps afloat so often this series and season, imploded Monday night. He allowed a goal to grinder Arron Asham in the first period that beat him clean, and that was just the beginning as he allowed five on 27 shots.
“I think he's been playing great all series, all season," Backstrom said. "He's a young, talented goalie and without him we wouldn't be here today in the playoffs. His performance this series and the whole year has been amazing, I think, and it's been fun to watch. He's not the reason we lost. That's me, myself, and on the players."
Those players on the NHL's best power play couldn't get it done, scoring just once in the final five games and three times in the series. New York's discipline and the Caps' lack thereof didn't help, either, but that wasn't the problem Monday night.
“I didn’t think we paraded to the penalty box like we did [Sunday] night, but we didn’t execute,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We didn’t play the system the way it was designed to be played.”
That system Oates instilled that was credited with stabilizing the team's performance wasn't able to withstand adjustments the Rangers made. Even if New York wasn't the better team for seven games, it became the better one as the series wore on.
“We knew what we had to do, and they just did such a good job of covering up their weaknesses, their holes,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “That’s a tough thing, a tough pill to swallow when you know how to beat a team, but you can’t quite get it.”
The Rangers showed that in Game 7. Even if they didn't control the play from the drop of the puck, they took advantage of crucial opportunities and put on an impressive show.
Star of the series Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves and kept the Caps off the board for the second straight game.
“They block shots and when they didn't block shots, he was there to make saves,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He won that series for them, in my eyes.”
Going into Monday night, history favored the Caps. The Rangers had never won a Game 7 on the road in five chances in franchise history and had lost 10 of their previous 11 postseason games at Verizon Center.
In this series, the home team won each of the first six games. The Caps figured Game 7 experience and being at home gave them an edge.
Instead, they played out the final minutes in almost silence.
“We still want to play hard for the fans that were still here, we still wanted to show that we weren't going to give up and it doesn't matter what the score was,” Brouwer said. “It's a shame that it ended up the way that it did.
The Rangers were a different team Monday night than any other game in this series and didn't have to win another close game. They skated the Caps out of the building, most lopsided playoff loss for this core group and worst in franchise history since 2000.
“Things that happen during series that just seem for whatever reason at the wrong time happen to us, that’s no reflection of the guys in the dressing room or how bad we wanted it,” defenseman Mike Green said. “The heart and the depth of the guys throughout the lineup is not the reflection of how it should end.”
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